How To Write

on June 22, 2006

There are only two ways to write. Either put your fingers on a keyboard and type away, or pick up a pen and do it the old-fashioned way.

Now that you know how to write, you might ask why are there so many dang rules out there? That you have to plot (or not); that you can never change POV mid-scene (except sometimes); that you have to introduce your hero/heroine by page 32 (or the end of chapter one, or chapter five . . . )

We all have rules we like and follow (most of the time.) And because we all tend to be a little egotistical, we think that if people would just follow OUR rules, they’d be able to write a marketable novel.

Truth is, my rules work for me and they may (or may not) work for you. Or maybe Rules #4, 15, 37, 85 and 99 of the 100 “rules” I write by will work for you, but not the others.

The only way anyone can learn to write is to sit down and do it. You can spend years in writing classes, read a hundred craft books, but to write a book you simply have to sit down and start writing. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter when you first start. But following rules that may stifle your voice or inhibit you is frustrating.

Case in point: I love Donald Maass’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. It’s one of the few craft books I’ve read, and I’ve read it three times. I never read books three times. But the way he put together the information and his checklists after every chapter helped me visualize how my stories worked and where I might need to focus more energy.

So, I got his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK. Argh!!!! What a waste of money. I absolutely got NOTHING from trying to make my novel and characters conform to his stupid questions. (But a good friend of mine loves the workbook and “didn’t get” first book.)

Who’s right? Me or my friend? Both! Why? Because the first book works for me, and the workbook works for her, and we’re both happy.

This isn’t to say that I agree with every single thing Maass said in his book. Under his chapter about Characters, for example, I absolutely agree with: “All stories are character driven.” I absolutely do not agree with: “Differentiate characters with character charts.” I wouldn’t know a character chart if it bit me on my derriere.

But, sometimes, in revisions, I get stuck and will skim his chapter checklists. I saw this comment: “Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events.” This one line gave me an AHA! moment in revising THE KILL last year. I had a scene that just wasn’t working and my editor hated it. When I reviewed Maass’s checklist, I realized I had written the scene in the wrong POV. I switched it to the hero and voila! it worked.

Why do I hate the workbook? Oh, let me count the ways . . . one exercize, for example, about inner turning points has the writer pick a turning point and wind back the clock ten minutes to find out how the character feels about himself at the earlier moment, the at the moment, then after the turning point. Ugh! I write enough scenes that I end up deleting, I don’t want to do it on purpose. When would I have time to finish the damn book? BUT I can see the value in being able to look at your character at any point in the story, written or unwritten, on or off page, and know exactly what they’re thinking and feeling. I do it all the time. I just can’t stand the idea of wasting time writing it out.

The point in this rant is that we all know how to write–put your ass in the chair–but in the process, we need to find rules that work for us and make our stories stronger.

And don’t force them on anyone else.

What’s YOUR personal favorite writing “rule”? What’s the writing “rule” you can’t stand? Just pick one . . . no fair listing ten!

My favorite rule is: “Rules are meant to be broken.” My least favorite rule is: “You must not change POV mid-scene.”

PS . . . BSP time. I posted my large print covers on my personal blog if you want to check them out!